Choosing the right paper

In this blog post, I want to share with you what I have learned about different makes of pastel paper and how they differ from one another. In the accompanying video on my YouTube channel I test the papers and you can see them in action, both with soft pastels and pastel pencils. The papers that I reviewed are:

Hahnemuhle Velour

Clairefontaine Pastelmat

Fabriano Ingres

Rembrandt Pastel Paper / Canson Mi Teintes

I will also explain what paper I use and why, showing an example of my work done with each of these brands.

Hahnemuhle Velour

This paper is 260gsm and has one workable side that has a velvety texture. It is both archival and acid free, meaning that the colour of the paper will not fade and it will not yellow over time. The synthetic fibres of the paper allow layering of the pastel but you will need to rub each layer into the tooth of the paper as you work. This will allow the pastel particles to settle into the tooth of the paper and thus hold more layers.

One thing to take into consideration is to use very soft pastels. The very soft pastels agree with this paper better than harder ones, although you can still use those as well. I stress the necessity of softer pastels, such as Schmincke, Sennelier or Unison, because they will produce more vibrant colours than the harder pastels.

You can also use pastel pencils on this paper, although, as with the harder pastels, colours will not layer as brightly and will not produce the vivid result like in case of the soft pastels. I have also noticed that the pencils layer better over the existing layers of pastels, that is, you can work them over layers of soft pastel and use them to drag the pastel out into finer details, such as hairs.

This paper also accepts charcoal, soft coloured pencils and oil pastels. I cannot share my experience with oil pastels or coloures pencils but I can say that the charcoal layers very nicely over it.

When it comes to blending, this paper does not allow the excessive smudging of the colour, meaning that your marks will pretty much stay in one place. I only use fingers when working on this surface as it does not require any other blending tools.

Another positive aspect of this paper is that it does not produce pastel dust, it literally “swallows” the pastel.

Size of the paper matters with this kind of paper. As you will mostly work with soft pastels to be able to produce tiny detail marks or hairs you will need to work large.

To be able to layer the pastels you will also need to have a rigid surface on which to place the paper. It is a good idea to back the paper with an acid free board or a foamboard (using a Ph neutral glue).

And the most important thing to remember about this paper is that every mark you make will have a soft appearance, you will not be able to produce sharp and defined lines as on Pastelmat, but it gives the painting a painterly look which I love about this paper.

Cooper

Soft pastels on Hahnemuhle Velour green paper, 30x40cm

Canson Mi Teintes

This paper has the weight of 160gsm and has two workable sides. One side has a more pronounced texture and the reverse side has a smooth surface texture.

I have tried to work on both sides of the paper and I was not very happy with it. The textured side shows through the pastel marks, and trying to blend them will only mix and muddy the colours. The tooth gets full pretty quick on both sides and it is near to impossible to add the lights over the darks.

When working with soft pastels or pastel pencils, there will be quite a lot of dust on the surface, meaning that you will have to shake it off or blow it off of the surface. This resulted in darker dust settling onto the paper as I shook it off and if I would have worked the area below with a lighter colour it would most certainly muddy them.

To blend on this paper I have used colour shapers of different hardness and my fingers. Both smudge the colours but if you layer another colour over the existing layer and smudge it again with your fingers or the colour shaper it will mix the two colours which is a huge no when you need to build up your layers. Trying to blend the pastel with a paper stump lifts a lot of the colour off of the surface of the paper, which is also very annoying.

I have seen some impressing work done on this paper but it is most definitely my cup of tea. One very important flaw of it is that it is very difficult to produce very detailed works. I use this paper for my warm up abstract paintings but I will not use it on any wildlife or animal paintings as I do not find that it fits my needs.

Tiger

Soft pastels and pastel pencils on Rembrandt pastel paper (very similar to Canson Mi Teintes), 28x19cm

Fabriano Ingres

This paper, as Canson Mi Teintes, is 160gsm which makes it very thin compared to Velour and especially Pastelmat. It is known for its texture – horizontal lines run through it and it is kind of divided into these columns by vertical lines. This texture is quite distinctive and it shows through the layers of pastels, as is the case with Mi Teintes.

This paper has two sides as well and you can work on both of them but neither hold as many layers as Velour or Pastelmat. The reverse side is smooth but the vertical lines are still visible on its surface.

Ingres deposits a lot of pastel dust on the surface, again – very similar to Mi Teintes. And you can use your fingers and colour shapers to smudge the colours. The paper stump lift out a lot of the colour off of the surface.

All in all very similar to Mi Teintes but with a different texture, and even though it has the same weight it strangely feels flimsier in hands than Mi Teintes.

All in all, for the inability to create highly detailed work, to add lights over the darks, and the very prominent texture, this is my least favourite of the papers that I have tried.

Barn Owl

Soft pastels and pastel pencils on Fabriano Ingres, 28x20cm

Clairfontaine Pastelmat

This is the heaviest of the of the papers I have tried, it is 360gsm and has a very fine texture, very similar to an extra-fine sandpaper. This is one of the so-called “sanded surfaces” that allows you to make sharp marks and takes a lot of layers. Other sanded papers are UART, Canson Mi Teintes Touch, Sennelier Pastel Card, etc.

One of the wonderful things about Pastelmat (unlike Sennelier Pastel Card) is that it takes water well and you can do a wet underpainting with pastels (using alcohol or water to dissolve the binder), watercolour or acrylics. This paper is very rigid and takes “the beating” very well.

Another its advantage is that you can add many layers of pastels and put lights over your darks even with pastel pencils, without muddying the colours.

It does not create any pastel dust like the Velour paper and holds soft pastels well.

This paper is an excellent choice to create very detailed works and works magically with pastel pencils. The colours look very juicy, and unline Velour, every stroke you make will remain sharp unless smudged.

For smudging on this paper the best tools are your fingers and a paper stump (also known as a tortillion). The same paper stump that would lift off the colours off of Ingres and Mi Teintes will push the pastel deeper into the surface of Pastelmat without lifting it out.

A word of caution is necessary here. Unlike Velour, this paper works magic with harder pastels, such as Conte’ crayons or pastel pencils. You can still use soft pastels but be careful not to fill the tooth too early on in the painting.

Hare & Buttercups

Soft pastels (background) and pastel pencils on Clarifontaine Pastelmat, 25x35cm

Final thoughts

Just to finish up this blog post I would like to share with you what my favourite pastel papers are. Of course, it will be Pastelmat and Velour. Both so different and in their own way unique, these papers allow you to create beautiful detailed paintings, one with “a soft pastel glow” and the other one giving the sharpness and intensity to the painting.

Choosing the right paper depends on two things, one is the size of the painting – the smaller the closer I lean to Pastelmat, and the tools I choose to use – for pencils I prefer Pastelmat and for soft pastels Velour. This does not mean I do not mix the both, it only means that the main work is done mostly in one form of this medium or the other.

I hope you find this post insightful, and to see these papers in action, check out the video on my YouTube channel.